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‘Together’. New Century Chamber Orchestra with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

08.27.09
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg
Audiophilia

By Anthony Kershaw

This new CD from SFO-based NSS Music arrived at the office this morning. My connection to the CD is via my Twitter ‘friend’ @mlaffs who runs the marketing and public relations for the New Century Chamber Orchestra. I requested the CD as I had read somewhere about violinist extraordinaire Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg’s new music directorship of the orchestra and her recent recording company venture, NSS Music. It would seem an obvious vehicle for a project, hence ‘Together’.

Don’t let the 1970s title throw you (remember those cheesy encounter EMI CDs with Previn/Shankar, Menuhin/anybody — Together; Together Again; Together Once Again?!). This is a very fine meeting of two artistic worlds without a musical collision in sight. It’s a cheese-free zone, too.

Sonnenberg is still at the top of her game as she leads 25 ace string players in an interesting and eclectic program. I’m not usually in favour of these ‘mixes’, but I felt right at home with the repertoire — you’ll get the feeling of attending a concert so immediate is the music making and beautiful the response.

NCCO’s composer-in-residence Clarice Assad starts things off swimmingly with her world premiere suite for chamber orchestra, Impressions. It shows her adopted orchestra in the most virtuosic light. Melodious and harmonically sophisticated, it highlights all sections of the orchestra with bravura.

The program continues with Argentinian tango master, Astor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Funky, sexy, funny, abrasive, all can be used to describe the four distinct movements. The quotes from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons are well done. A wonderful piece and wonderfully performed.

Bartok’s Roumanian Folk Dances and Heifetz’ arrangement of Gershwin’s Bess, You Is My Woman Now round out the program. Both works are played beautifully. Pe Loc, a movement from the Dances, I remember studying in high school music appreciation. The tenderness in this movement and throughout the Dances is intoxicating. Tactile.

The New Century Chamber Orchestra has been around since 1992 with former directors now leading orchestras at the L.A. Opera and NYC’s Mostly Mozart Festival. As I have not heard the orchestra until now, I cannot attest to the previous standards. What I will attest to is the amazing Sonnenberg’s famous energy and creativity in offering a showcase for what is obviously a very fine string orchestra. Sonnenberg is contracted for three years. Can you say ‘contract extension’?